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Pearsall House

Buildings: Sarasota History

Source: City of Sarasota public records
Credit: Sarasota History Alive
Location: 1905 Alta Vista Street, Sarasota, FL

Sarasota History - Pearsall House photo

The William and Bessie Pearsall House is a two-story Mediterranean Revival Style home located at 1905 Alta Vista Street in the Avondale Subdivision. The house was completed in 1925 and is an excellent and well-preserved example of its style. As well, it is a visible and tangible link associated with the Florida Land Boom years and real estate development resulting in unparalleled growth during the 1920s in Sarasota.

Historic Context

Development of some Sarasota perimeter neighborhoods began in the early 1910s and were further developed and platted during the frenzied Florida Land Boom of the 1920s. The land area that would become Avondale Subdivision was originally developed by the Sarasota Improvement Company for families of average means. In the January 7, 1915 edition of the Sarasota Times, seventy-five lots were advertised for sale in Avondale at a cost of $250 each with fifty dollars down and ten dollars due per month. Plans for the addition of sidewalks and the grading of streets were also announced. To boost interest in the subdivision, a $1,500 bungalow was to be given away. Despite such promotions, Avondale developed slowly.

On April 23, 1923, the Sarasota Improvement Company sold a number of lots in Avondale Subdivision to Irving Bacheller, Edward Brewer, and Fred S. Woolley, under the guise of the Bellevue Land Company. On March 10, 1924, the Bellevue Land Company, consisting of said buyers, was changed to the Bacheller-Brewer Corporation.

On October 14, 1924 they filed a new plat, "Avondale", and the property was subdivided. Individual lots were enlarged and the streets widened, making the area more upscale and exclusive. In addition, a new water system was installed and a sea wall was constructed along Hudson Bayou. Avondale became known as a "model suburban development". The company planned to build homes to promote the development of the subdivision where restrictions required that no dwelling costing less than $5,000 would be constructed. Such restrictions would remain in force until January 1, 1950.

Several homes were built for promotional purposed. One of those homes, on Orange Avenue, was occupied by Bacheller-Brewer principal, Fred S. Woolley, and his family. Wooley was the son-in-law of Bacheller. The sale of lots increased in Avondale in 1924 and 1925 in part due to the frenzy of the Florida Land Boom.

In 1925, the Avondale Subdivision experienced tremendous land sales and gained recognition as one of the finest subdivisions in the Sarasota area. The November 17, 1925 edition of the Sarasota Herald reported, "all lots, except those facing the bayous in Avondale" were sold. It also was announced in the same article that the Bacheller Brewer Corporation had hired the architectural firm of Clas, Sheperd and Clas of Milwaukee, who were also designing residential and commercial buildings such as the Crisp Building and Charles Ringling Building in Sarasota during the period, to construct a 600 foot concrete pier on the Hudson Bayou in Avondale. The bayou had already been dredged for power and sailboats. To promote the remaining twenty lots along the bayou, the article stated that the Bacheller Brewer Corporation had plans to build a "magnificent residence near the pier" for approximately $30,000. The strategy was to market the remaining estate-sized lots with a Spanish style model home. This was the Homer Galpin Home, which is locally and nationally historically designated. That residential structure is known to have been designed by Thomas Reed Martin, based upon the original plans that have been passed down to the various owners of that property over time. To design the other model homes in the subdivision, Bacheller-Brewer selected Martin and Hosmer Studios, Inc. which consisted of Thomas Reed Martin and Clare C. Hosmer. It is highly suggestive that this was a model home and thus the work of Martin or Martin and Hosmer.

Thomas Reed Martin was, if not the most significant architects in Sarasota in the first half of the 29th century, the most prolific and versatile architects. Martin is credited with the design of over 500 houses in the Sarasota area between 1910 and his death in 1949. Several of his residential projects, including Burns Court, the William Burns House (Washington Drive, St. Armands) the H.B. Williams Residence, and the J.G. Whitfield Estate are listed on the National Register. The house immediately to the north of the Whitfield house, the Coleman House at 2716 Bayshore Road, completed in the spring of 1925, is almost a virtual twin of the Pearsall House except it has an additional wing and a porte cochere with second floor living space above. Although it could not be confirmed, it is again another indication that this may be the design work of Martin.

Design Attributes Attributable to Thomas Reed Martin

Although it is only strongly suggested and not verified, the Pearsall House is very likely the work of Thomas Reed Martin. In late 1924 and early in 1925, the Martin and Hosmer, attributed as the original design firm for Avondale Subdivision, were credited with designing several buildings for prominent downtown Ft. Myers developer Port Richey at about the same time and is considered the "father of New Port Richey". Martin and Hosmer maintained offices in both Ft. Myers and in Sarasota. The Martin/Hosmer Studios partnership lasted only briefly, from the fall of 1924 until February of 1925 when they became independent of each other. Thus it appears that Martin went on to be the sole designer in Avondale after that point, as is confirmed to have at least designed three homes in the subdivision individually.

Thomas Reed Martin is credited with having introduced modern building methods into Sarasota and in order to make sure that work would be done the way he wanted, he brought many skilled artisans into the city. He was known for having a modernist interpretation of the Mediterranean Revival Style. His work often reflected modern streamline forms embellished with Mediterranean Revival features. His work was similar in spirit to the work of Irving Gill whose residential architecture in southern California was transitional between the Mediterranean Revival and the Modern on the West Coast.

Pearsall (c. 1926-c. 1930)

The first owner/occupant of the property was William H. and Bessie M. Pearsall. The Pearsalls purchased the property from Bacheller-Brewer Corporation on November 26, 1925. They were residents of Manatee County (not yet Sarasota County) as early as 1920 according to the Florida census. Subsequently, the Pearsalls appear as occupants of the home.

A check in the 1926 City Directory notes that at the time Mr. Geiger was the Vice President and Manager of the U.S. Garage. A few months prior to purchasing the home Pearsall sold his interest in the garage. A December 4, 1925 article in the Sarasota Herald mentions that Pearsall was a half-owner and general manager of the garage for many years and one of Sarasota's "best known citizens" and that he sold his interest in the garage to pursue, "other interests". The article is in reference to a surprise party given to him by his former employees and fellow officials where he was presented with an engraved trophy.

In the combined 1927-28 Sarasota City Directory, Mr. Pearsall is noted as being on the Board of Public Recreation and a salesman for the Venice Company. Mr. Pearsall was born in 1880, and Mrs. Pearsall's year of birth was 1882. Sadly, the Pearsalls lost the house through foreclosure on April 12, 1928 to the First Trust Company. The 1930 Florida census notes that they were still residing in Sarasota at that time along with their 14 year-old daughter, Lavina.

Geigers (c. 1930-1942)

On February 12, 1929, the property was transferred to William H. and Emma Geiger from the First Trust Company. That same day, Bessie Pearsall transferred ownership of the entire furnishings of the house to the Geigers for $700.

Mr. Geiger sold his former home on Arlington to the famous Flying Wallenda circus family. Mr. Geiger also owned a number of investment properties in Sarasota. A February 14, 1929 article in the Sarasota Herald refers to the sale of the former Pearsall home to Mr. Geiger as "one of the most important real estate sales of the season." The same article states that Mr. Geiger was a prominent resident of Chatfield, Ohio and that he operated one of the largest chicken hatcheries in the country, and that he was also a large property owner in that "section." Apparently, Mr. Geiger died in about 1942 after the time the property was sold by his son and his daughter-in-law, Edwin N. and Alma Geiger, to the next owner.

The property was sold several times afterwards and even stayed vacant for a four-year stretch in 1967.

Today the Pearsall House has been meticulously restored and an architecturally appropriate addition graces the east side of this extraordinary home.

The Pearsall House was locally historically designated by the City of Sarasota in 2005.

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